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Life of Blessed Joseph Vaz (1651 - 1711)

 

Early Childhood

 

April 21, 1651, a son was born to Christopher Vaz ( Sancoale) and Maria de Miranda (Benaulim), in Benaulim, Goa India in their ancestral house, and the couple (Brahmin caste) baptized him on the 8th day by the name of Joseph Vaz or Vaas ( surname spell unclear of those days). Joseph was the third child, prior to him Peter was the eldest followed by Anna. Scholars says, the same year his father saw a star (may be a planet or comet) at noon in his village Sancoale, and thus named him "Joseph" relating the events of the Holy Family and the appearance of the bright star in Bethlehem. From early childhood Joseph remained deeply motivated by the teaching of Christ and the accurate reason may rely on his mother or the nearby church. Its also clear, the period of conversion and the impact of holiness existed in those days apart from modern life are some of the reason which created the overflow of seminaries or monasteries in those day. Life remained stagnant with only agricultural policies while the church education remained at its peak than any fields. Joseph life began near the life of river Sale, Benaulim which flows into the Arabian Sea and history speaks more of maternal region than Sancoale. Holiness commanded in their house and this is relevant of their own relation Fr. John, Fr. Christopher and Fr.Joseph Carvalho assisting him as missionaries in Ceylon. According to the oratory's historical evidences written by his own cousin Sebastian de Rego, “Joseph was like a lamb always absorbed with his heavenly concentration always hidden from the outside world".

 

Education

 

He began his Portuguese Elementary school at Sancoale and his two widow aunts, staying in his house assisted him in the studies and most probably in his holy life. He made his future life  at a very young age and the parents guided him accordingly to his way of life. After completing the elementary, he attended the high school in Benaulim and learned Latin side by side. Brilliantly, his high school ended and was then sent to the University (may be Old Goa -the seat of learning) to learnt the rudiments of humanity under the guidance of Jesuit Fathers, and stayed at the College of Our Lady of Rosary. Later at St. Paul College, completed literary studies, and then with the aid of the Dominicans joined Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas for the Theological and Philosophical studies. After his studies charity and chastity remained with him and above all what he learnt, taught to others even a lay man became a major force in his life. His life now remained vacant to continue further studies to become a Priest and a missionary.

 

The Dreams of Profession

 

His father accompanied him through the ultimate dreams of becoming a Priest. With the shortest route Neura, Azossim, father and son reached Old Goa once the capital of Goa and the seat of learning. He was admitted in the St. Paul, Jesuit College and later received minor orders in 1671 (aged 20) and made Sub Deacon in 1674 (aged 23) by the Goan Bishop of Hierapolis.In 1675 (aged 24),ordained as a Deacon  by the Apostlic Vicar of Bijapur and Golconda, Custodio de Pinho (Verna). Year later in 1676, he was finally ordained as a Priest by the newly appointed  Archbishop Dom Antonio Brandao, and made him as a confessor and preacher of  the good news all over Goa. He placed his life in the hands of Mother Mary and declared himself as a "slave of Virgin Mary" written later by himself in the old Sancoale Church on August 5, 1677 where he began his preaching life. He gave up the wearing of slippers or shoes soon after his ordination, following the exemplary life of St. Francis Xavier, and it’s confirmed that it was the life of St. Francis Xavier, modeled or inspired him to become a missionary. Seeing the starving youth for education Fr. Joseph opened a Latin school in his village and his first pupil Joseph Carvalho (nephew), Fr. Joseph de Menezes followed him till the final mission.  He was then appointed as a spiritual director by the rotating acting Governors of Goa, Dom Rodrigo da Costa and Luis Gonsalves Cotta.

 

The Mission to Kanara and the founding of Goa Oratory

 

Christianity reached the island of Ceylon during the time of St Thomas the Apostle and later by St. Francis Xavier, and the earliest Christians practiced the religion under grave threats, among the flourished Buddhism culture and the Dutch Colonial rule. The oppressions and the deploring situation of Christians by the Dutch reached Old Goa through messenger, and these precarious conditions were scripted in the Canon of the Holy See Cathedral, and to rescue the desperate one, began the prime object of his life. He was appointed as a Superior (or Vicar) of Vara, Kanara Mission and later his father passed away. His brother misdeeds also created a deep wound on his life and he himself uttered this words “will I ever visit the new house" and until death he abandoned it. Back in Kanara, the Ceylon dreams never flouted, and thus he meets Portuguese missionaries Fr. George Saidas and Fr. Manuel Entradas who had given up the hopes of their mission due to Konkani Language. With great love and affection he joined their company and thus kept their dreams fulfilled. During his mission life, he attached a great importance to marriage life for his region, which was endangered due to the jurisdictional disputes of the Archbishop of Goa and the Apostolic Vicar of Rome, Don Tommaso de Castro. The controversy raged after the arrival of new Archbishop of Goa, Don Manuel de Souza de Menezes and Fr. Vaz debated the same. The new Archbishop informed Fr. Vaz to oppose the Apostolic Vicar and then it was amicably resolved.   He completed his three year mission with great difficulty, ultimately wining the hearts and mind of the local pagans and his Superiors. Back in Goa in 1684, Ceylon began to haunt him and the canon words at the Old Goa Cathedral started to ignite fire in his soul. Experience taught him the "difficulty" to accomplish any mission single handed, and learned the Sinhalese language secretly. He became the first ever missionary to plan and draft the long missionary activities in Ceylon. Thus he spoke “After my death, the zeal should continue by other missionaries, no matter in whatsoever situation". During his visit to the Church of Holy Cross of Miracles (Old Goa) he noticed a small community of local priest (local priest were discriminated by the missionaries during this period) under the care of Fr. Pascoal Jerimias da Costa.

 

September 25, 1685, Fr. Vaz knelt down at the feet of Fr. Pascoal and begged him to admit in their community. With great love and joy, Fr. Pascoal invited him to the small group of local priests without vows and together they prayed mediating day and night to give birth for their new organization. And thus they founded the St. Philip Neri Oratory (The Oratory founded by St. Philip Neri the Apostle of Rome in 1575 and similar existed in Lisbon) in Goa in 1685 and the Congregation of just 5 elected him the first superior. The current Mount Church or the Holy Cross of Miracles in Old Goa  ( Piddacho Kuris now currently lies in the Holy See Cathedral) existed in the same pattern during the time of Fr. Joseph Vaz (The current crumbling Old Goa Oratory which exists today was constructed by the succeeding Perfects after the departure of Fr. Vaz). January 9, 1686 Fr. Vaz sent a letter to the Founder of Philip Neri Oratory in Lisbon, Fr. Bartholomew de Quental requesting him the directions and the rules of the Congregation. They began the Oratory (still exists today in half ruins and half restored) near the Church of the Holy Cross of Miracles, Boa Vista Old Goa and from then onward their mission began in Goa. Scholars write of numerous miracles of their mission during this period, and the mission was nicknamed "Milagristas". While preaching mission in the nearby island of Divar, at Sao. Mathias, he cured a lady called Mariana Fernandes from Malaria (sickness considered as deadly in those period). Months later the growth of seminarians increased and, Fr. Vaz finally decided to leave for his final unknown secret mission but he confided all his plans to Fr. Pascal Jeremiah da Costa( Margao), and made him the director of the oratory in his absence. Prior to his departure, he wrote his last loving letter to his brother Peter to cultivate a spiritual life. March 1686, together with Fr.Paolo de Souza, Brother Stefano Sequira and a family servant Joao from Sancoale they began their journey (kept secret) barefooted from their Oratory to the south coast of India to Ceylon

 

The Mission to Ceylon and the fate of Oratory

 

After a fierce battle between the exploring and warring Portuguese and the Dutch, the former colonist and the priests were expelled in 1656 and the island was under the dominion of the Dutch. Their Calvinist propaganda started to dominated and thousands of Catholics were persecuted. Meanwhile in their oratory at Old Goa, it was difficult to get the approval because the Oratory for the first time had all locals, the first of Latin rite in the third world. Divine Providence acted to his servant Fr. Vaz and Fr. Bartholomew de Quental of Lisbon approves it and the Oratory receives it in February 1687. Fr. Pascal now the director died the same month and the congregation appointed Fr. Custodio de Leitao as the new superior. Then the controversy raged for the Oratory as the Archbishop of Goa, Dom Pedro da Silva initiated the idea of managing the oratory under the hands of the Jesuits. The next Archbishop D. Frei Agostinho de Anunciacao rejected the idea and made Patrimony as compulsory. He began his iron fisted rule of running the affaires of the Oratory by appointing the Superior and those missionaries intending to go to Ceylon needed his approval. The missionaries were thus sliced into two and many thought of deserting and joining the Jesuits

 

June 1695 news reached to Fr. Vaz about the Oratory's misrule by the Archbishops and other authorities, and thus he wrote the prophetic words to his Perfect in Goa" Bear patience and the gift taken from you will be returned back by the Lord". Years later and after length process and with the help of Jesuits and their own Oratory in Lisbon, Pope Clement XI approved the Oratory due to the courageous work of Fr. Joseph Vaz in Ceylon on November 26, 1706(approx 24 years). The King of Portugal also gave his approval on March 30, 1709.

 

The Journey to Ceylon

 

With a dejected heart and the worries on the head of Oratory, the barefooted Superior along with his four companions, empty handed with only breviaries, Gospels and the cross kept their perilous journey (ghats, forests etc) towards Karwar, Honavar, and Mangalore until Tellicherry day and night. On reaching Tellicherry, Fr. Vaz sensed danger because of skin color, and advised them to return back to the Mangalore Mission. He took with him Joao until they reached the Jesuit Mission in Topo. The Jesuits treated them with great love and warmth and then they were taught Tamil language (Fr. Joseph was the first to translate the station of the cross in Tamil) and the methods of disguising. Days later they bid adieu to the Jesuits and reached Tuticorin as Coolies, and thereafter embarked on the ship for Ceylon. The journey lasted for 20 days instead of four days due to bad weather. April 1687 on disembarking Ceylon both fell sick

 

For three months they began to beg door to door in Jaffna, in order to trace the tracks of Catholics. Persecution of Catholics raged fiercely as thousands devoutly gave their lives in Colombo, Manar and Jaffna. The Dutch began their scorch earth policy and most of the churches, cross and other artifacts kept by the Portuguese were either razed to ground or completely rooted out by the Calvinist regime. As their begging survey continued, they were suspected by the locals, and reported the presence of a priest in their midst to a local called Barros, who immediately identified Fr. Joseph and thus the iron curtain church was born in Ceylon under the care of Fr. Joseph. The first Christmas Mass after decades was planned in several places, but as in every society Judas exists and so it happened, and the Dutch persecutor Van Rhede conducted the raid. Hundred of young boys and girls were stripped naked, burnt or slaughtered and some n were cast into jails. Eight leaders including Dom Pedro were executed for the sake of faith, while Fr. Vaz escaped miraculously and reached Kandy through rough terrain of wildlife, forest, bandits etc ( its during this period he issued a command over the snakes not to bite a Priest and until this day the prophetic orders are obeyed and respected by the snakes). Back in Kandy the Calvinist told the King Vimaladharmasurya II of the Priest and a boy as Portuguese spies, and thus they were  captured, chained to their feet and dragged on the streets and cast in jail for two years or even more. While in jail he taught his companion Joao the rudiments of Priesthood (Years later he wrote to the Goa Oratory Superior about Joao and his mission life in Ceylon and requested the superior to ordain him as Priest, and he was the first Dalit Priest to be ordained). The enduring persecution in Ceylon and the dangerous works carried out by Fr. Joseph Vaz were recorded by Fr. Andre F, SJ. and the account was sent to the Governor of Goa and to his Jesuits in Lisbon. Even the news awakened Pope Clement XI in Rome about the heroic deeds of Fr. Joseph Vaz and his mission in Ceylon. The King realized it later of his mistake and released them free and permitted Fr. Joseph to carry on his mission openly without fear. Thus the foundation for the Church in Kandy began earnestly, and simultaneously the deadly Chickenpox virus began to spread rapidly. Its was during this moments, the King himself witness the lengths and the breadths of the caring touches of the missionaries, and their service to his subjects.

 

Apostle of Ceylon

 

Year 1696, Fr. Joseph Vaz was given the freedom to preach and to raise the dismantled catholic communities and monuments by the Dutch. He made his journey to the Puttalam to give his priestly confessions and sermons to more that thousand, who for decades never seen a priest. By now he was well conversant in the local Sinhalese language. Year 1692 he decided to make Kandy as the centre for his Apostolic but again he was put behind the bars along with two other catholic by the Calvinist propaganda. In prison he advanced his mastery over local language and build a small hut church inside the prison area. Then began the drought in Ceylon and thousands began to starve with the killer waves. The King in a desperate situation pleaded his Buddhist monks to pray for rain, and all the prayers proved futile. Divine Providence once again acted in its own way to assist the imprisoned monk, and the King informed the prison guards to bring Fr. Joseph in his presence. The King then asked him to bring rain to his dying subjects. He erected a small altar and a cross, and with great faith, he prayed and mediated to the creator to assist again in a difficult situation. Hours later it rained intensely and abundantly without affecting the altar and himself, and witnessing this impact the King granted him to preach gospel around Ceylon, year 1696.

 

The catholic around Colombo was yet under the Dutch domain and preachers were bared from this region. Understanding the difficulties and the flock's starvation of Gospel, Fr Joseph entered by risking his life. During this period he received three missionaries from the Oratory of Goa to assist him and the Bishop of Cochin Don Pedro Pacheco conferred on him" the Vicar General of Ceylon". He labored intensely in all sectors, gaining the respects of other faiths namely the Buddhists and Hindus. However by 1697 once again the killer wave small pox hit Kandy. Fr.Joseph Carvalho his first pupil at the Sancoale School assisted him in the construction of the church in Kandy and the King invited him to translate the Portuguese books in Sinhalese. In 1699, Rome, the Holy See understood the courage of Fr. Joseph and due to his success, Mgr de Tournon, the Papal Legate was appointed to have a direct communication with Fr. Joseph. Year 1705, his mission began to flourish all over Ceylon as new missionaries began to embark on Ceylon soil. He also created the first catholic literature in Sinhalese in accordance with the Buddhism and Dutch Protestant, in order to create a peaceful coexistence of all faiths living side by side. The papal Holy Legate conceived the idea to make him the Bishop of Ceylon, but Fr. Joseph refused the idea due to his failing health

 

The oldest and the tolerant religion Buddhism never obstructed his dreams and passion, and this is relevant in his communication with the Kings. He never made a distinction of any faiths and despite to his great difficulties, he made a sounding mark in writing the rules and regulation all by himself in the hostile island of Ceylon, where once education had no meaning. King Vimaladharma Surya II died in 1707 and a new King Narendrasihma assumed the throne, who like his predecessor kept Fr. Joseph close to his throne. 1708, once again new missionaries arrived to assist his mission, while his health began to decline, and yet he made his last visit to his regions.

 

His declining health began to fade his missions and after arriving back to Kandy, he collapsed from the carriage (may be horse carriage) and remained in dire conditions. He knew his end closing by and the masses understood their beloved days are numbered. Thousand began to flock to pay their loving respect and yet he recovered and again by Easter the same year he was infected by Catarrhal infection and later from an abscess (or may be cancer- non existence of scientific discoveries) behind the ear. The Abscess caused him unimaginable pain and high fever and in such a deplorable condition he initiated to undergo the nine days spiritual exercises according to their Oratory norms. Six days later, his condition began to deteriorate beyond condition, his missionaries sensing fear, halted his exercises and for a day (or may be days) he remained on bed in dire condition and intention directed to the Virgin Mary. At the last chapter of his life, he asked his missionaries for the Last Communion. He remained in his half state of mind then while on bed (may be on mat) he met for the last time the newly arrived missionaries. He then told to the missionaries who surrounded him" It will be difficult to achieve at the time of death rather than fit in life" He then asked his close aides to leave him in silence and loneliness and began to contemplate or mediate on the station of the cross. And far away from his near dear ones ( by this time in Goa his Vaz hereditary member no more existed) the great son of Goa, Fr Joseph Vaz passed away to his heavenly abode late at night Friday on 16th of January, 1711 in the midst of his Goa Oratory missionaries and the local people. The Ceylonese flock thus lost their Samanasu Swami forever in their lives.

 

Thousand began to flock his small mission house from all over Ceylon, irrespective of any faiths or culture. Even the Dutch heart began to melt, seeking the harsh treatment they had posed earlier for his life and to the Catholics of Ceylon. Gloom of mourning began as routes or streets began to weep for the zealous son of Goa, who dedicated his life for the sake of his mission and to the people of Ceylon. The wounded Canon page at the Holy See Cathedral at Old Goa, was thus healed by the unknown, indigenous son of India and indeed became the Ambassador of Peace to the natives of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. The King sent his condolences to his missionaries and requested the body to keep for three days as crowds began to pay their last visit to their loving father. Day and night the pilgrims began in huge numbers and for three days his body remained exposed for the souls of Ceylon. Until this day nobody knows where his body is buried by skeptic says he was buried in the church in Kandy.( May be he wished to remain unknown). Thus ended the passage of Fr. Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Ceylon, labored for 24 years. He sent the Crucifix given to him by Pope to Goa and remains preserved in the Oratory Room in Sancoale, Goa.

 

 

Year 1737, Jesuit Bishop of Cochin, Dom Francisco de Vasconcelos who had the jurisdiction of Ceylon urged the Holy See to began the beatification of Fr. Joseph Vaz. However the local masses in Goa began to intercede for his holiness and many miracles were obtained through his intercession, and thus the beatification process began from Goa ( if the Holy see had declare him the saint in the same century or later, the Goa Oratory may have remained intact than decayed into ruins). Benedict XIV ordered to cancel the proceeding due to non available of some certain obligation but told the same should be reinstituted later.

 

Beatification of Fr. Joseph Vaz

 

Year 1737, Jesuit Bishop of Cochin, Dom Francisco de Vasconcelos who had the jurisdiction of Ceylon urged the Holy See to begin the beatification of Fr. Joseph Vaz. However the local masses in Goa began to intercede for his holiness and many miracles were obtained through his intercession, and thus the beatification process began from Goa ( if the Holy see had declare him the saint in the same century or later, the Goa Oratory may have remained intact than decayed into ruins). Benedict XIV ordered to cancel the proceeding due to non available of some certain obligation but told the same should be reinstituted later.

 

 

 In 1894, Mgr. Zaleski the Apostolic Delegate of the East Indies wrote about him " He is entirely been forgotten by the west including India (Goa) and the new generation of Ceylon hardly knows what they owe to him". This prophetic words still remains today in our society for more than 300 years. The main frontrunner Bishop Dom Pacheco of Cochin died in 1714 and fifteen years later the Goa Oratory began to document on his life but the Holy See refuse to except on certain grounds. After the death of Bishop Pacheco, Rev. Francisco Vasconcellos was appointed the new Bishop, and he wrote to Pope Benedict to grant dispensation  and the document was granted by the Pope in 1742, and sadly the main witness on the life of Fr. Joseph, Fr. Jacome Gonsalves died. Year 1745, all the missionaries were expelled by the fanatic Buddhists and most of the Churches and other relics were either destroyed or razed to ground. In 1745, Fr. Sebastian do Rego also a relative of Fr. Joseph Vaz compiled the biography called " Vida do Veneravel Padre Joseph Vaz" which , later on translated into Italian in 1753. Crisis then followed for the Oratory to crumble in 1853, as the Portuguese crown refrained to fund it. Mgr. Michel Zalesky did much to spread the devotion of Fr. Vaz to the west and even set up a Papal seminary in Kandy. With the extinction of Goa Oratory, the devotees in order to keep the memories of their son ,laid the foundation stone in 1909 to build a sanctuary in Sancoale. Year later it was opened to the public in 1922, dedicated to St. Philip Neri.

 

Year 1928, Archbishop Patriarch of Goa, Matheus de Oliveira Xavier appointed a committee to collect all the evidences of his life, miracles and the witnesses. In 1935, Archbischop Teotonio Viera de Castro appointed a tribunal and held seventy two secessions until 1952. January 23, 1953 Archbishop of Goa Jose da Costa Nunes ( later cardinal) sent all the documentation to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome, who later directed the document to the Historical Department" Positio Historicia" in 1957, and the same was approved in 1985, 1988. April 4, 1989, All the Cardinals at the Holy See gave their approval and the Holy Father Pope John Paul II ordered the promulgation of the “Decree on the Heroic Virtues".

 

Causes or Miracles for Beatification

 

For the Beatification case to process it required a miracle and thus it happened" Mrs. Carmela Quiteria da Piedade Noronha wife of Mr. Damiao da Costa from Goa, who being pregnant in 1938, began to suffer from hemorrhages . She was transferred to St. Martha's Hospital in Bangalore. After two weeks her condition turned stable and later brought back to Goa. Months later the sickness started again to cause unbearable pain and thus she was admitted to "Escolar" hospital, where the case was diagnose "Placenta Praevia". The condition began to decline and doctors became helpless to go for a caesarian operation. November 26, the close aids of her, and other communities began to implore the divine intercession of Fr. Joseph Vaz. November 27, the pains ceased without surgical or medical intervention and the same evening a premature boy was born to whom the couple named Cosme, a professional priest now.

 

This miracle prompted the case to proceed further after verification of all the medical documents and when the cure of the said sickness never existed. After all the length processes and 300 years later the son of Goa was finally beatified in Colombo, Ceylon now Sri Lanka by Pope John Paul II in January 21, 1995.

 

 

The view express in these ‘democratic spaces’ are of free authors, readers and speakers.

Blessed Joseph Vaz Sanctuatry, Sancoale, Goa





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